This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Sermon prepared by Rev. George G. Vink, Visalia, Calif.
Dear Congregation and Friends in Christ Jesus, Our Risen Lord,
February is "Heart Month" in a lot of places. Clinics and hospitals hold "Coronary Risk Evaluations" for men and women of any age. We are concerned about the health of our hearts. Few of us here today don’t know someone who’s had heart surgery or is taking medication to avoid surgery and yet make the heart function as it was designed to function. We read in The Banner about a Mr. De Vos’ heart transplant, and we wonder if we would go through all that in order just to live longer.
The word "heart" can be found often in the Scriptures. Rightly so. And, when it does, it seldom simply means the organ, the muscle in our chest that pumps and pumps. It doesn’t talk about what your doctor wants to check regularly with the EKG and blood tests. Your doctor makes you do that treadmill test. He wants to know if there are blockages that may lead to a heart attack. He checks for more than you even might like.
In the Bible, "heart" refers to such things as personality, intellect, memory, emotions, desires and the will. Actually, as you and I think about it, so do we. For example, we’ll say, "He’s all heart" and we may be cynical, but we’re not suggesting that he’s a total organ. It means more than a bodily function. So too, throughout the scriptures.
Interestingly, the Bible also speaks about God having a heart. It does that in Hosea 11. One of our passages read earlier, Ezekiel, prophesies about that wonderful forward looking truth, "A new heart and a new spirit in you..." We’re to receive a heart of "flesh" and not a "stone" one. What a change. We know best for ourselves how much it’s needed.
Jesus speaks about the seed of the gospel and its life-changing ability falling on the fertile ground of a "noble and good heart" with the resulting fruit and life change. Well, we want to ask, what kind of heart is that heart of flesh that Ezekiel promised that God would be giving us? What kind of heart is "the pure of heart" that Jesus talks about in the beatitudes in Matthew 5’s Sermon on the Mount? Let’s take a look so that we can test our own.
When doctors do the heart checks on the muscle/organ, we know that they may not be 100% accurate, but they’re doing their best. What procedure do we use to do a check on the heart that is not measurable by seeing blockages, although one could say that sin causes enough of these. What procedure or means could we use to measure the condition of your heart and mine? Today I’d like to try something a little different, but hopefully it’s helpful. As a pastor is prone to do, I want to ask, "How’s your heart?"
I’m indebted greatly to Nancy Beach who is a teaching pastor at the Willow Creek church in Chicago. She suggested the five areas that we’re going to use today. Five areas of checking your heart’s functioning. Certainly they’re not exhaustive or definitive and maybe not even the best, but I suggest that they’re a helpful way of looking at your heart’s condition. They’re five key indicators that help us see the health of our heart and soul, our spiritual condition. They are:
Let me expand on these and give you some possible key questions to ask as we do this heart "exam."
A healthy heart experiences emotions. A healthy person cries at times and laughs at times. A healthy heart is touched by joy, pain, anger, gratitude and love. So having said that, I ask you to ask yourselves, "Have I cried over anything lately?" or "Have I really laughed?" A healthy heart is touched by the pain of others as well as personal pain. A healthy heart experiences emotional change when it’s happening.
Someone suggested that Elijah’s heart, when he was running from Jezebel, was not at all healthy anymore. After all, he wished to die and then fell asleep. That’s more a state of numbness, incapable of feeling anymore. Truly a heart that has some major blockage, waiting for a total seizure.
So, think about it. How would you rate your capacity to feel deep emotion?
Rating it from a high (5) to a medium (3) or a low (1)?
Let’s move on with our heart check. I’m eager to have us look at the other four checks too.
Author Frederick Buechner advises us: "Listen to your life...all moments are key moments and life itself is grace." Oh, how often we fail to seize the moments that God provides. We fail to seize the day as given. We wait instead for what doesn’t come. We’re not in the present and instead we dwell on the past or anticipate the future, and the whole time, we’re missing out on the present.
When our hearts are working right, when we do what we are intended to do, we are able to look each other in the eye and relish each moment. Then we’re not in such a destructive hurry to move on that we miss the present moment. We learn to listen to our children, to our friends, to our partners, as well as our parents. We savor the present. We see the shine in our children’s eyes when they tell us something exciting, show us something new, and share a happening. We do so without trying to be somewhere else.
A healthy heart savors the present and doesn’t skim through it. It’s mindful of what is happening and relishing it for what it is. With this in mind, ask your children or others close to you, "Are you all there for them?" Ask yourself, how would you rate your moment mindfulness? From a 5 to a 1? From the high to the low? Where are you?
Our next one is a challenger too. Let’s learn together.
Life can be so overwhelming! So much can be demanding your time. Needs pile up. We get worn out and all too serious with life. Again, a healthy heart has the capacity as well as the need to laugh, to relax, and to enjoy life’s events. Jesus came to give life and give it to the full. John 10:10 tells us that rather clearly, and we used to say He came to give it "abundantly" what now we call "to the full." Either way you translate it, it means to live life as God intended us to do so.
When we can no longer play, no longer laugh, or simply let go, then we’re asking for a heart failure, a collapse. You might call it burn-out. You can call it life fatigue. Whatever you call it, it’s devastatingly destructive. Do you set some time aside for sports, quiet reading, or something that’s a change from your routine? Think about it, and rate yourself again with the fun factor. High, medium, or low. What are you risking?
The next factor is one that ties closely to church fellowship too. Let’s move on.
How are you seeing people? When Jesus saw crowds, he would have compassion on them. He was grieved to tears with the death of his friend Lazarus as he looked at death’s pain and destruction. How do you look at people? Do you find people and their problems overwhelming? Do you resent phone calls asking for help? Are you dodging all requests for help?
A healthy heart is empathetic. It listens to the hurts of others. It’s willing to take some time to walk a mile with the one hurting, listening and learning that life can be so overwhelming, oh so difficult for others too.
Now that doesn’t mean no boundaries in your life. That would be destructive too. But, after all, when all is said and all is done, by what standard will you be judged? "The greatest of these is love!" is still God’s standard. Have you loved people? Have you been moved by someone else’s lostness? Measure yourself once again. How loving have you been lately? What you did last year doesn’t count! Where do you fit? High, medium or low? On that scale of 5-1, where do you really fit. Where would your friend put you?
The final factor is a more subtle one. Let’s look at it now.
Recall again that Elijah heard God in "the still, small voice!" Does God have to get a megaphone to get your attention? God speaks in a variety of ways, but are we listening? Am I? He is always with us. We claim that promise that Jesus made as He gave the great commission. Then, hear Him speak to you, everywhere and always. God is speaking to us. Sometimes He does so at the most awkward times. Sometimes He does so in what we would think of as most unusual ways.
Rev. Art Schoonveld wrote in February 7, 2001’s Today under the subject of "Holy Ground." He was right on. He said, "God has a way of coming into our lives when we least expect him. The Lord sometimes turns the most ordinary places in our lives into holy ground. A simple church service can become holy ground. A time of prayer around a sick bed can become that special place where God wants to meet us. We need to ask God’s Spirit to help us recognize God’s holy ground." It’s more than just a song, "God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform."
The healthy heart is listening for His voice wherever it is heard. You and I may have missed a lot of messages because we’re not tuned in. Are you attentive to His promptings? God is speaking, is my ear open? Is yours? Rate yourself again regarding your listening to the whispers as well as the shouts. Is it high, medium or low?
Remember, God is in the business of healing hearts. He’s in the business of transforming them. He does the kind of heart transplant needed. "I will give you a new heart!" And He does it now. There’s no waiting list. Someone already died to make it possible.
The question comes our way, "Who is responsible to make sure we have healthy hearts?" The answer is obvious, isn’t it? We are!!! I’ve got to make sure that I work at it. With His help, doing what I can, I’ve got to do what I can. We need to look at our lives and make sure we have the right exercise program in place. You’ve got to get out and do what new hearts do. We’ve got to practice what we believe. This includes a time of reading of God’s Word as well as times of just listening to His Word and World speak to us in the stillness of our souls. But, that calls for slowing down. Taking the medicine that the doctor ordered.
I’ve got to, and you’ve got to, make sure we’re doing what God intended us to be doing. We’ve got to be functioning in life, utilizing the gifts He’s given us. We need to know what are our limits as well as our strengths? I cannot be, and you cannot be, all things to all men. I have to set limits. I have to say "no" as well as "yes." Only those who know how to say "no" will be able to carry out the "yes" and what’s asked of them. Otherwise you’re helter skelter, getting nowhere!
Seek out what God wants you to do. There’ll be joy in your life when you do so. Find the joy in accepting yourself as God made you, without a need to please certain people or be threatened by the success of others. You are God’s special work, unique, a once-in-an-eternity person.
Remember, God is at work in you and through you. He’s a big God! And this BIG GOD is interested in you and your heart, you and your life. This God is interested in your life, in you. You don’t have to be the president or prime minister or a movie star to make it to His front page in order to be noticed. He knows you. Psalm 139 teaches that this God who made you is interested in you for your sake. After all, this God loved you so much that He sent His Son.
Don’t you think this God is interested in the condition of your heart? Take a look at yours. What do you think He’s seeing? What do you think you need to do differently? Are you prepared to take your Maker’s advice? It’ll make all the difference in this world.
Proposed Order of Service
Call to Worship: from the Psalms, "Shout to the Lord"Greeting and Words of Welcome
Song: "I Love You Lord"
Call to Confession: Jesus’ Words from Matthew 22
Song of confession: Hymn #257, "O Christ, the Lamb of God"
Words of Assurance from I John 1
God’s Word from the Decalogue – Some Version
Singing of Hymn #205, "I’ve come to tell"
Prayer of the Congregation
Children’s Message – Talk About a Heart - Draw One - Surgery Illustration etc.
Prayer/Hymn for Illumination #421, "Spirit Divine, Inspire Our Prayer"
Scripture Reading: Ezekiel 36:22-29, Matthew 5:8 and Luke 8:11-15
Sermon: "How is Your Heart?"
Prayer of Application
Hymn of Dedication: #427, "Breathe on Me"
Offering and Offertory
Prayer for Offering by Deacon
Parting Hymn of Praise: #634, "Father We Love You"